Though it’s located in the heart of downtown Portland, just steps from Monument Square, it can be as easy to overlook Slainte Wine Bar & Lounge as it is to mispronounce its name. The door to this cozy establishment is set back a few steps from the sidewalk along Preble Street and angled such that if you’re heading in the same direction as that one-way street, it’s easy to walk right by. That would be a shame.
Slainte (pronounced SLAHN-cha) is a Gaelic toast that means “for good health.” Spend an evening drinking Slainte’s cocktails and, if nothing else, your mental health with improve considerably.
The shoebox-shaped space Slainte occupies has three distinct sections. The front third is the bar and the back third is an open stage area where indie-rock bands, DJs, spoken-word performers and comedians do their thing on various nights of the week. A dimly lit lounge area with couches and tables is in the middle. You can usually find proprietor Ian Farnsworth behind the bar. He’s owned the establishment since 2006.
There are nine beers and a cider (Woodchuck) on tap. Selections include Long Trail Ale, a couple Brooklyn Brewery products, Baxter Brewing Co.’s IPA, Guinness Stout and Allagash White. A decent selection of local, micro and imported bottled beers chill in a small cooler, and you can get PBR or High Life for three bucks or less.
The cocktail menu has two main sections, Coffee Drinks and Martinis, and there are nearly three dozen choices among them. I’m not one for coffee drinks, so I started with a Martini-style concoction called the Crocodile ($9.25; all the Martini varieties are priced at around $9). The Crocodile tastes like liquid candy. It’s a briskly shaken mixture of melon liqueur, triple sec and vodka, with a little lemon juice. With my first sip I drew in a sliver of ice and, had I not known better, I could have believed it was a Jolly Rancher. The Midori bonds well with the vodka and the citrus gives it all a bright tone. The Crocodile lacks the bite of its namesake, but it’s a commendable cocktail nonetheless.
The Ecstasy is a blend of Three Olives grape-flavored vodka, Curaçao and grenadine, with a splash of soda. It tastes like a melted purple popsicle — which, to a kid on a hot summer day, is the definition of ecstasy. The drink spends just enough time in the shaker to leave a thin layer of ice on top, enhancing the popsicle effect. Like the Croc, this a cocktail for those who don’t want to taste the alcohol in their glass.
A slightly more mature option is the Irish Apple Martini. The mix is Jameson, apple schnapps and cranberry. The Irish whiskey’s subtleties get lost in the mix, but that doesn’t make this a bad drink. That said, for $9, it should be a little stronger.
For drinkers without a sweet tooth, I recommend the Monument Square, an espresso-flavored vodka libation with nutty Frangelico and lemon juice. The high-water mark is the French Connection, a fine marriage of Hennessy cognac and Grand Marnier.
Slainte’s cocktails are designed to appeal to the broad tastes of the diverse clientele its eclectic entertainment schedule draws. The same can be said of the pub food on hand, a selection of sandwiches, wraps and apps that are quick and easy to prepare and satisfying once received. With about 75 liquors and liquers on hand, Farnsworth also has the ingredients to whip up more complex cocktails upon request.
As the name implies, there’s wine to be had here, too. Most glasses go for around $8, and bottles start at $24, topping out at $50 for the Cristom Pinot Noir from Oregon. Given the lack of food robust enough to tangle with such a wine, only vino aficionados are likely to order it, but they won’t be disappointed. Slip into Slainte during happy hour or to catch the next underground music sensation and you won’t leave disappointed either.
— Carl Currie